Thomas Rutling

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Thomas Rutling (1854-1915) was an American former slave who became an original member of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a choral group that toured throughout the United States and Europe. He was a tenor in the group.

Fisk Jubilee Singers

The Fisk Jubilee Singers are an African-American a cappella ensemble, consisting of students at Fisk University. The first group was organized in 1871 to tour and raise funds for college. Their early repertoire consisted mostly of traditional spirituals, but included some songs by Stephen Foster. The original group toured along the Underground Railroad path in the United States, as well as performing in England and Europe. Later 19th-century groups also toured in Europe.

Tenor is a male voice type in classical music whose vocal range lies between the countertenor and baritone. The tenor's vocal range extends up to C5. The low extreme for tenors is roughly A2 (two As below middle C). At the highest extreme, some tenors can sing up to the second F above middle C (F5). The tenor voice type is generally divided into the leggero tenor, lyric tenor, spinto tenor, dramatic tenor, heldentenor, and tenor buffo or spieltenor.



Rutling was born on December 24, 1854 into slavery. His father had either been sold by slavers or had run away before his birth. Rutling was the youngest out of nine children. His mother was sold when he was age three. Rutling never found out the fate of his parents. At age eight, Rutling was put into fieldwork, but his master soon redirected him to household work. In 1865, Union soldiers freed him from slavery.

As a free man, Rutling travelled to Nashville, where his sister taught him to read and write. Rutling then started to work for a surgeon and then enrolled in high school at Fisk University. Thomas paid for his tuition by becoming a waiter for the teachers. He attended the Literary Society’s weekly debates, which helped with his linguistic skills.

Fisk University university in Nashville

Fisk University is a private historically black university in Nashville, Tennessee. The university was founded in 1866 and its 40-acre (160,000 m2) campus is a historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1871, Rutling joined the university’s choir as a tenor. They toured across the country to raise funds and spread awareness for Fisk University. The choir was soon named the Fisk Jubilee Singers, since they sang renditions of Negro spirituals.

Rutling spent seven years touring with the Fisk Jubilee Singers in the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe. At the end of that period, he became ill and moved to Switzerland at the end of a tour. He supposedly fathered a son in Austria.

Rutling then returned to England, where he was sponsored as a singer by August Manns, an orchestral director. When public interest in his singing waned, he became a voice teacher at schools in Britain. In 1907, he toured church halls. Rutling published a short autobiography in Bradford and Devon.

August Manns German conductor in Crysal Palace

Sir August Friedrich Manns was a German-born conductor who made his career in England. After serving as a military bandmaster in Germany, he moved to England and soon became director of music at London's Crystal Palace. He increased the resident band to full symphonic strength and for more than forty years conducted concerts at popular prices. He introduced a wide range of music to London, including many works by young British composers, as well as works by German masters hitherto neglected in England. Among his British protégés were Arthur Sullivan, Charles Villiers Stanford, Hubert Parry, Hamish MacCunn, Edward Elgar and Edward German.


Thomas Rutling died on April 26, 1915 at 97 Valley Drive, Harrogate. His death may have been due to liver cancer. Rutling's friends paid for his funeral and plot in Grove Road cemetery, includingthe stone cross inscribed “Late Jubilee Singer, Fisk University. They sing the song of the lamb”.

Harrogate town in North Yorkshire, England

Harrogate is a spa town in North Yorkshire, England. Historically in the West Riding of Yorkshire, the town is a tourist destination and its visitor attractions include its spa waters and RHS Harlow Carr gardens. 13 miles (21 km) away from the town centre is the Yorkshire Dales national park and the Nidderdale AONB. Harrogate grew out of two smaller settlements, High Harrogate and Low Harrogate, in the 17th century. Since 2013, polls have consistently voted the town as "the happiest place to live" in Britain.

Liver cancer gastrointestinal system cancer, located in the liver

Liver cancer, also known as hepatic cancer and primary hepatic cancer, is cancer that starts in the liver. Cancer which has spread from elsewhere to the liver, known as liver metastasis, is more common than that which starts in the liver. Symptoms of liver cancer may include a lump or pain in the right side below the rib cage, swelling of the abdomen, yellowish skin, easy bruising, weight loss, and weakness.

Rutling was remembered with love and affection, his impact (mainly in Britain) was significant. He was remembered for his singing, his eloquence, and his role as a representative of the Afro-American arts. [1] [2] [3]

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  1. Jeffrey Green, ‘Rutling, Thomas (1854–1915)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2010 accessed 12 Feb 2017
  2. Graham, Sandra. “On the Road to Freedom: The Contracts of the Fisk Jubilee Singers.” American Music, vol. 24, no. 1, 2006, pp. 1–29. JSTOR   25046002
  3. PBS. "Thomas Rutling, Tenor." PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.